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Radcliffe Bailey: Pensive

Radcliffe Bailey at the Gibbes

Last week the Gibbes opened a new exhibition, Radcliffe Bailey: Pensive, and it is extraordinary. The exhibition (on view through September 16, 2018) showcases recent work by internationally renowned, Atlanta-based artist Radcliffe Bailey. A painter, sculptor, and mixed media artist, Bailey layers imagery, culturally resonant materials, and text to explore the themes of ancestry, race, and memory. The exhibition is complex and challenging, but also incredibly beautiful. There is a poetic quality to Bailey’s work that is hard to put into words.

On Your Way Up, detail, by Radcliffe Bailey
A detail of On Your Way Up shows an Army tarp and crocodile. Bailey embroidered initials and dates as reference to his two grandfathers onto the tarp. Photo ©MCG Photography

The beauty of Bailey’s work lies in his ability to convey both the personal and the universal through the use of unexpected materials. His large-scale piece titled On Your Way Up is created with a taxidermied crocodile on an old Army tarp, and through Bailey’s unique vision, is transformed into a poignant tribute to ancestors, and more specifically, the artist’s grandfathers. Family history plays heavily in Bailey’s work. The mixed-media piece Ebo includes an image of an African mask drawn over a photograph from a family album. To the left hangs a bag of cotton and an antique lantern—perhaps a reference to Bailey’s ancestors who traveled north on the Underground Railroad.

Ebo, by Radcliffe Bailey
Ebo, by Radcliffe Bailey, includes a family photograph obscured by an African mask, a bag of cotton, and an antique lantern—perhaps a reference to Bailey’s ancestors who traveled north on the Underground Railroad. Photo ©MCG Photography

As I sit in the gallery and take in the exhibition, I am in awe of the artwork and the stories it tells. The materials and found objects incorporated into the works have symbolic meaning, but they also have a history. The crocodile once swam through central Africa. The piano keys in Storm at Sea were played by Atlanta musicians. This history echoes through the gallery, adding a dimension to the exhibition experience. Bailey describes his work as walking a line between the tangible and the intangible, and you can feel this at the Gibbes. And as the title implies, the exhibition certainly will make you think. Come see for yourself, as words simply do not do justice to Bailey’s work.

Bailey installing Storm at Sea at the Gibbes Museum
Bailey piles piano keys into a wave-like form that make up the foundation of Storm at Sea. An African sculpture and a ship sit atop the wave, referencing the Middle Passage. Photo ©MCG Photography

Pam Wall, curator of exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art
May 4, 2018

Top image: Radcliffe Bailey in the galleries during the installation of Pensive at the Gibbes. Photo ©MCG Photography.

This exhibition is organized by the SCAD Museum of Art and is made possible by Radcliffe Bailey and the Jack Shainman Gallery.

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